Seeing Dots

Who doesn’t love a polka dotted motif?  The term “polka dot,” dating from 1880-85, is of American derivation, and of course it immediately conjures up a mental picture of a field of spots forming a pattern on a textile.

Here is what Christian Dior had to say about Dots in his Little Dictionary of Fashion, first published in 1954:  “I would say the same about dots as about checks.  They are lovely, elegant, easy, and always in fashion.  I never get tired of dots…  Dots are lovely for holiday clothes … and for accessories.  According to their color, so they can be versatile…  Black and white for elegance; soft pinks and blues for prettiness; emerald, scarlet, and yellow for gaiety; beige and gray for dignity.”  (The Little Dictionary of Fashion, by Christian Dior; Abrams, New York, New York, 2007, page 34.)

“Lovely, elegant, easy and always in fashion.”  That is quite an endorsement, and one with which I completely agree.  I also have to agree with these quotes, the first one  from Marc Jacobs: “There is never a wrong time for a polka dot,”  and this one from the American actress, Anna Kendrick, “You can’t have a bad day in polka dots.”

While images of polka-dotted dresses, blouses, ensembles, and sportswear are in abundant supply from many sources, it’s always inspiring to look at a few select examples, many from the 1950s.  The following two images were part of a feature in the February/March 1955 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.  Although pictured in black and white the first example is described as “Tiny white polka dots on red crepe. A soft day-long dress.”

The next image is titled Gigantic Dots:  “Bold black dots on hot pink surah.  A dramatic sheathed bodice dress.”

Can you imagine how beautiful this dress was in hot pink with black dots?

The June/July 1957 VPB Magazine featured “the most romantic dress of the season – a pouf of black-and-white silk polka dots.”

Less than a year later, in the April/May 1958 VPB Magazine, an entire feature was on Polka Dots and Patent Leather:  “Exciting goings-on in polka dots: fresh new arrangements – at their most polished in black and white silk surah, spruced with gleaming black patent leather.”

Below is the dress of this description: “Dots blown up to impressive sizes – a look for relaxed but festive evenings.”

This two-piece dress could easily be worn today and look very current.

And here is the image for “Classic polka dots – square cut blouse [with] reverse-dot cummerbund:”

One of my favorite outfits from the show Mad Men was this white linen dress with a built-in silk polka dot sash. The two-color sash makes this dress a standout:

Image from The Fashion File; Advice, Tips, and Inspiration from the Costume Designer of MAD MEN, by Janie Bryant with Monica Corcoran Harel; Grand Central Life & Style, New York, New York, 2010, page 8.

This famous – and stunning – 1958 dress and coat ensemble by Arnold Scaasi, an American couturier, was featured prominently in the retrospective of his work at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, September 25, 2010 – June 19, 2011:

Now this is an exhibit I wish I had seen.

And finally, this is a Carolina Herrera ad which I plucked out of some magazine a while ago. The ad is for the handbag, but the polka-dotted dress, with its bright red sash steals the show:

So why all my focus on polka dots?  They have been much on my mind lately, as I have finally begun the many-step process of making a couture dress, using this vibrant silk, purchased seven or eight years ago:

This is a crepe de chine which I purchased from Britex Fabrics in San Francisco. Smaller irregular dots are woven into the design.

The background color is navy blue.

Now my hope is that one cannot have a bad sewing day when working with polka dots.



Filed under Cocktail dresses, Day dresses, Fashion Exhibits, Fashion history, Mid-Century style, Polka dots, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

20 responses to “Seeing Dots

  1. Mery

    Oh, it’s bound to be good, your garment. That is so cool the way dots are also woven in. Dots usually look happy in sddition to other descriptions. Your research is so interesting. A friend tells that she was wearing a red dress with white dots when her husband proposed, and she always kept something similar and made sure to wear it any time she had to tell him anything like, “Honey, I wrecked the car.”
    Do you remember polka dotted diapers? Flannel diapers came in sets of a dozen with either one pink or one blue half-inch dots included. At least they did for a decade or so when Dior was writing about dots. I thought they were cute on babies and I remained fond of them when they went into the ragbag. I used one as a pressing cloth for decades.

    • Mery

      Oops, you’re talking couture and I’m talking diapers and rags. If I explained I’d just dig myself in deeper. Suffice it to say that your higher plane of couture beauty and a fun touch of mystery is especially welcome at this time.

    • I DO remember those polka dotted diapers! Thanks for reminding me, however. Those were the days! Love the story about your friend and her red dress with white dots!

  2. Love those dots! Girl #2 can’t get enough of them! Your post was like a fun fashion history lesson…looking forward to seeing your new silk dress. 😊

  3. Françoise

    Great post ! I bought online some months ago a piece of Abraham cotton and silk fabric with big copper and brown dots online (from Joël & Sons of London), just because of Balenciaga use of such fabrics – now I discover the touch of true couture… And now I am terrorized to use it ! 😳😳😳
    The fabric is in the same time heavy and soft.
    Anyway, the models and your fabric are really amazing – I am looking formards to see your creation

    • Oh, your silk dotted fabric sounds beautiful! I am always a little bit terrorized to cut into any expensive fabric. I check myself over and over before I start cutting! I understand how you feel, but there comes a point when you just have to go for it!

  4. Your blog is wonderful! I could not stop scrolling (great posts) and ran across it while googling traditional gaberdine fabric! Bravo! beautiful work and inspiration. Love those patterns and your detail in executing them!

  5. Oh, you know I am a sucker for polka dots! I particularly love the Arnold Scaasi bubble dress with black/red medium/large sized dots. Your fabric is especially lovely and I can’t imagine it being anything but sensational! Hurry, hurry, hurry………… 😉

    • I love that Scaasi dress, too! I think it is just amazing, and I can’t imagine it in any other fabric.
      I’m hurrying, I’m hurrying!! And by the way, I thought of you when I was writing this post!

  6. In my entire life, I only owned and wore one red Swiss dot dress my mother purchased for me as a teen. But after reading this post I see I am out of fashion sense and need to get with it! Perhaps I will start with a scarf and work my way up to a blouse! But I am turning over a new leaf! And as always, love the history lesson! ❤

  7. This is going to be another beauty, Karen! Can’t wait to see what you come up with!

  8. Thanks, Sharon! This dress has been long in the thought process, but so far, so good!

  9. Marguerite

    Thank you for such a wonderful post! I love polka dots of all sizes and colors! One of my favorite dresses that I ever made was from a black with tiny white dots fabric. It was a Mccalls designer pattern , whose name escapes me now, but that dress went everwhere! Weddings, parties, even funerals!

  10. Reblogged this on sketchuniverse and commented:

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